This morning we continue our study about the church. As you can see from the title of my message, today is about discipleship. What is a disciple and why are they important to the church?
Let’s begin our study near the beginning of the New Testament. Turn with me to Matthew 4.
I. Jesus and His Disciples
Matthew 4: 18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. 19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. 20 And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. 21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. 22 And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
A. Jesus Handpicked Twelve Men to be His Disciples
Shortly after Jesus began His earthly ministry, He called twelve men to come and be His disciples. “Follow Me”, Jesus would say to them, “and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus chose His disciples early in His ministry and for the next three years, they followed Jesus everywhere He went. If Jesus performed a miracle, they were there. If Jesus preached a sermon, they were there. If Jesus had a confrontation with the Pharisees and other religious leaders, they were there. Wherever Jesus went and whatever Jesus did, they were a part of it.
B. Jesus Involved Them in His Ministry
Not only did Jesus call these men to follow Him in His ministry, as time grew on He began to involve them in His ministry. Let’s take a moment and consider what happened one particular day.
Matthew 14:6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. 9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus. 13 When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart…
1. Dealing with the Death of John
Several of Jesus’ disciples had known John personally and some of them had actually been disciples of John before they became disciples of Jesus. Therefore these disciples were very sad when they heard the news of John’s brutal death and it appears that Jesus, as their loving shepherd, pulled them aside for a while in order to minister to them. But unfortunately, their time alone would be brief.
2. Dealing with the Multitudes
Matthew 14:13 … and when the people had heard thereof, (that Jesus was in their region) they followed him on foot out of the cities.
Jesus couldn’t get away from the people. They followed Him wherever He went; even in a moment of sadness.
Matthew 14:14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.
And so, what was supposed to be a day of rest and recovery turned into a day of intense ministry.
Matthew 14:15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. 16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.
I believe that the disciples sometimes got tired of the people. Think about it for a moment. They’re dealing with their own personal struggles about John’s death and then they spend the entire day ministering to other people. Near the end of the day they come to Jesus and say, “It’s time to send the people home.” They pretend like it’s so the people can find food, but I believe it’s just to send them people home!
But Jesus said to them, “You feed them.” Can’t you imagine what must have gone through the disciples’ minds at that moment? “You’ve got to be kidding! We’ve spent the entire day ministering to them and now You want us to feed them? How? With what? It would take more than a year’s wages to feed this many people.”
But then one of the disciples, named Andrew, spoke up and said, “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good would that do in a crowd this large?” I like Andrew. Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot about him, but often when Andrew’s name is mentioned, something significant is happening. I kind of wonder if perhaps he sensed that something miraculous was about to happened, but he didn’t know what or how. “Here’s a boy’s lunch, but that won’t help – will it?”
Scripture says that Jesus had everyone sit down and then He gave thanks to God for the food. Then He had His disciples to begin distributing the boy’s lunch among the people. Again, my mind is full of questions. I wonder how much food each disciple started out with. Did they turn around and suddenly their baskets were full of bread, or did they have just a little bit in their baskets, and yet, somehow their baskets never went empty?
Afterwards Jesus had them gather up the leftovers and the Bible says there were twelve baskets full. Not four baskets or seven baskets or even ten baskets. One basket for for each disciple.
3. Dealing with the Storm
Matthew 14:22 And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away.
The word ‘constrained’ seems to indicate that Jesus had to force His disciples to leave without Him. In their minds, what was the use of them going alone and how was Jesus going to get to the other side.
Somewhere during the night, a terrible storm arose upon the sea.
Matthew 14:24 But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.
The storm was so severe that even experienced fishermen like Peter and John thought they were going to drown. But then, as they were just about to give up hope, something amazing happened.
Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night…
The fourth watch of the night was sometime between 3 am and 6 am. They’ve been out there all night fighting this storm.
Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.
I remind you that at this point, the storm is still raging. Jesus doesn’t just walk on the water. He walks on the stormy waves.
Matthew 14:26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.
Now here’s my question about all of this. Why did Jesus put them through all of this adversity in one single day? What connection, if any, is there in the news of John’s death, the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus walking on the storm?
I believe that there are at least three important reasons:
1) Jesus is Teaching Them to Walk With Him in the Details of Life
Very early in the development of our Christian walk, the Lord brought a book into Tammy and my life entitled, “Walking with Jesus is the Details of Life” by Patrick Morley. It wasn’t a deep, theological book that answered some of the Bible’s most difficult questions. It was a very practical book about seeing Jesus in every detail of life. That’s what Jesus is trying to do for His disciples. Regardless of what the situation may be, we should always turn to Jesus for His guidance and help. Jesus is always there.
2) Jesus is Teaching Them How to Minister to People in the Details of Life
Ministering to people is more than what goes on here on Sundays. Ministering to people is meeting them where they are at and caring for the needs at hand. Sometimes it’s a Bible lesson, and sometimes it’s a meal.
3) Jesus is Discipling His Disciples
Two years earlier, Jesus called these same men to be His disciples, yet that doesn’t mean that they automatically knew what to do. They had to see Jesus do it first. They had to hear what He had to say. They had to experience it on their own. They had to make some mistakes so that they could grow. They had to be prepared to handle what He would eventually give them to do.
II. The Church and Christ’s Disciples
Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Many of you know that this passage of scripture is often called ‘the Great Commission.’ It’s Christ’s assignment for the church. It’s the primary purpose of the church. It’s our mission.
A. What is the Primary Purpose of the Church?
If I handed you a sheet of paper and asked you to write out on it what is the purpose of the church, what would you write?
1. It is to Glorify God?
Some of you might say that the church’s primary purpose is to worship and glorify God. The Bible says that all things were created by God for His glory and pleasure. Though worship is an important part of the purpose of the church, it alone is not the primary purpose.
2. It is to Preach and Teach the Bible
Some of you might say that the church’s primary purpose is to preach and teach the Bible. Though preaching and teaching God’s Word is an important part of the purpose of the church, it alone is not the primary purpose.
3. It is to Care for Those Who in Need
Some of you might say that the church’s primary purpose is to care for those who are hurting. Though caring for others is an important part of the purpose of the church, it alone is not the primary purpose.
4. It is to Share the Gospel with Those Who Don’t Know Jesus
Some of you might say that the church’s primary purpose is to share the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus. Though sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Christ is an important part of the purpose of the church, it alone is not the primary purpose.
What then is the primary purpose of the church? Or to tie it in with the title of this sermon series, ‘Why do we exist?’ I believe that the overall purpose and mission of the church is to make disciples, and everything else, whether it’s teaching, preaching, caring for others, worshipping God and even sharing the gospel with a lost and dying world falls under that. Doing those things is a part of being a disciple.
5. The Church’s Primary Purpose is to Make Disciples
B. What is a Disciple and What Does It Mean to Make Disciples?
There are two very important questions we need to answer at this point and because of time, we’ll only be able to scratch the surface. I suppose you could say that all the sermons that will follow this one will help answer our questions.
1. Question #1 – What is a Disciple?
The term ‘disciple’ was very common in Jesus’ day. Jesus was not the only one to have disciples. As I said earlier, some of Christ’s disciples had been a disciple of John the Baptist before they met the Savior. So what exactly is a disciple?
a. A Pupil or Learner
One resource says that a disciple is a pupil or learner. A disciple is someone who listens very carefully to what their master is saying.
b. A Follower
Another resource says that a disciple is a follower. A disciple is more than a student. They listen, learn, and follow. What a disciple hears from their master changes their life.
c. Someone Who Serves
Pastor Bruce shared with me a resource that defined a disciple as a person who is: “following Christ, being changed by Christ, and committed to the mission of Christ.” This type of discipleship affects the head, the heart, and our hands. We hear, are changed, and then do.
d. A Fully Committed Follower
Searching for an even simpler definition of what it means to be a disciple, I remember something from a friend of mine in Ohio. This man and his wife lead a large, international youth ministry. Shortly after they took over this ministry, they developed a mission statement. As you know, a mission statement is a sentence or two that simply states your mission. Here is the mission of that ministry:
TURNING TEENAGERS INTO FULLY COMMITTED FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST
From that statement I think that we could say that a disciple is a ‘fully committed follower of Jesus Christ.’ Though that’s a short, simple little statement, it’s a mouthful. How in the world do you transform people (much less teenagers!) into fully committed followers?
2. Question #2 – How Do We Make Disciples?
a. It’s a Process
My friend’s mission statement says that they are going to attempt to ‘turn’ teenagers into fully committed followers. They realize that it’s not going to happen overnight. It took Jesus over three years, plus another forty days after His resurrection, to disciple His disciples. Even the great Apostle Paul confessed in his letter to the Philippians that he hadn’t yet arrived.
Philippians 3:12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal…
If the Apostle Paul hadn’t yet arrived, then probably most of us haven’t either. This year will mark fifty years since I first came to Christ. After fifty years you would think that I would be walking on water. Somedays I do, for a moment, but like Peter, I get my eyes off the Lord and begin to sink. After fifty years, I’m still in the process of being turned into a fully committed follower. Someone has said that every believer should be discipling someone else, and should be being discipled by someone else. I believe that this is one of the primary reasons Jesus formed the church. He knew that we would need each other. We need teaching, but we also need care, encouragement, support and even sometimes rebuke.
1) Discipleship is a Process That Begins With Salvation
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
The King James Version says ‘teach all nations.’ All other translations say something like ‘make disciples.’ Make disciples is the better way of translating what Jesus was saying. Make disciples are the closest to the words Jesus used. How do we make disciples? Jesus says that it begins with ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’ Believer’s baptism is the first step in becoming a fully committed follower of Jesus Christ.
Later in this series we will dedicate an entire sermon to the meaning and importance of believer’s baptism, but for today I want us to note that believer’s baptism is the way that first century Christians expressed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Look with me at Acts 2.
At the close of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, the men listening cried out –
Acts 2:37 …what shall we do?
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized – every one of you – in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…
First of all, repent of your rebellion against God. Secondly, receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior and be baptized in His name. Being baptized in Jesus’ name says that you are placing your life under His authority.
41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
For two thousand years men have been preaching the gospel about Jesus Christ and the need for salvation in Him. People have been turning from their sins so that they could turn to Christ. And they have been being baptized (sometimes immediately) in His name. I see no reason to change now.
2) Discipleship is a Process That Continues with Spiritual Growth
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…
Literally Jesus was saying, ‘disciple the disciples you have made.’ Make them a disciple by leading them to salvation and then develop them as a disciple by teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you to teach.
ii. It Has a Purpose
Discipleship has a purpose. The purpose of discipleship is turning people into fully committed followers of Jesus Christ. It’s not tickling their ears. It’s not making them feel good about themselves while they’re still living in their sin. It’s not letting everyone do their own thing. It’s about transforming us so that we may be conformed to the image of Christ. We could say that it’s restoring the image of God in their lives that was lost when mankind first sinned. Someone has said that it’s taking people from where they are to where Christ wants them to be.
That was Paul’s desire. Though he admitted that he was not where he needed to be, he was not content to stay there. Notice what he said –
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)
What was the prize Paul was pursuing? Was it a pat on the back or a golden crown? It was Christlikeness. Paul wanted to become more and more like his glorious Savior. That’s the purpose of not only discipleship, but salvation. God is redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the likeness of His Son. Jesus said that we are to be ‘teaching disciples’ to be obedient to everything He has commanded.
iii. It’s About a Person
Discipleship is not just about filling someone’s mind with a lot of information. Information is good only if there is some kind of application.
Discipleship is not about making people follow some sort of routine. Discipleship is not about laying down a bunch of rules and expecting everyone to follow them.
Discipleship is not about being superficially religious. Discipleship is not something that we plug into one hour a week. Discipleship is about our entire life, Monday through Saturday, as well as Sunday.
Discipleship is about helping men and women develop their love relationship with God. It’s about helping them come to not only know about God, but to know God and to love Him.
Are you a disciple of Jesus? Have you received Him as your Savior? Have you been obedient to what He commanded to be baptized in His name? Are you actively engaged in studying His Word so that you may not only learn more about Him, but so that you may become more like Him? Are you walking in His Spirit so that He may teach and guide you?
Let me ask something else? Are you helping to disciple others? What part are you playing in this process of discipling the church? How is your Christian walk benefitting others?
There’s a lot for us to think about when it comes to rediscovering who we are as the church and why we exist. I pray that the thoughts of this message will be a blessing to us all.